Enjoy, and whether you’ve seen the show, or are just hearing of it, get over the the Barrymore Theatre as soon as you can to see Rob McClure in Chaplin.
Working with the Director
Me: You once told me a great story about how Warren (Carlyle- Chaplin’s director) wanted the tightrope moments done is such a specific way, that you now have to literally balance on the rope. The harness is just a precaution.
Me: Throughout the rest of the show, you do a lot of wild things that you won’t see in every Broadway show, and many of them are when you are playing the Tramp. With this in mind, were all of these moments as heavily set in stone as the tight rope, or did Warren give you freedom to explore them yourself?
Rob: Warren has a very specific outline of the evening, and he has a very specific outline of moments that he wants to create. He is a big fan of magic, and things... feeling. He rubs his heart in rehearsal a lot and it means that whatever we’re doing feels right, so he is a big proponent of that. He crafts those moments within an inch of their life- very specifically. But within that, there are moments where he gives us a lot of freedom. For instance, the “I’m a little teapot moment” came out of that freedom. We were in La Jolla and Tom Meehan had written all of this sort of fake German jibberish- all this silly German nonsense. The idea was that the Hitler clip would come in and play and I would say all of this fake German to Hitler’s mouth. But Tom didn’t write it to a specific Hitler clip, he just wrote funny German. So we got to tech. They flew in the screen and were teching the video. And I was watching it over and over again trying to make the German make sense. It was hard because I was trying to make it line up with certain things his mouth was doing, and it just wasn’t landing. So Warren then began saying to feel free to mix up the lines if it will help to match the clip better...
Me: Since it’s all nonsense anyway.
Rob: Yes, exactly. So, try to make sense of it. And the only thing I could see on screen was that he was doing this position with his hands very cutesy at his chest, then with his fist at his shoulders like he was flexing his muscles, and then his hands went down by his crotch. So I though, huh. And I thought of “I’m a little teapot.” So the next time we ran it in tech, I just said with a German accent “I’m a little teapot” to the choreography that Hitler seemed to be doing. One of the spot ops laughed out loud, and Warren came on the God mic and went (donning a British accent) “Yah, keep that.”
Rob: So there has been a certain amount of freedom within his strict outline in the show. In terms of the tramp stuff, Warren and I sort of found the little Tramps instincts together. Warren and I joke that we are on the same page 99% of the time. It’s really great- we have formed that sort of relationship working together on this over the past two years. So, if there are little tramp moments that, in my research, I realize that the little Tramp in this movie is in a similar situation to where I am in this, and he tips his hat with the back, sometimes he tips his hat forward and sometimes he tips his hat backward. And learning when he does which informs the moment. So, sometimes I bring that to the table and say that maybe I could do this or that there. And he (Warren) is always willing to say try it and he is more than willing to say “No, cut that. Don’t do that.” So he has created an atmosphere in the rehearsal room where you can try anything. And then whatever stays is what worked and made it feel right. But, by no means were we not able to explore options. He encouraged a lot of play.
Me: That’s great. To me, Chaplin comes across as a clearly and heavily staged show, but it never feels forced- always very natural. What impresses me the most is how much that is done on a basically empty stage. Of course, you have the turntable, but in a time when automated scenery techniques are so common, it’s incredible how much you create with fairly minimal props and scenery- but it’s what makes the staging so brilliant.
Rob: Warren talked a little a bit about this being a memory play. We’re in Charlie’s head for most of it, and so weaving in and out of memories as seamlessly as we can and Warren rarely wants to be literal with concept, and with his staging. It really causes the show to have a fluidity that is really nice. It seems to flash throughout his life like memories do in your head.
Me: It’s incredibly sweeping. Especially when I’ve sat down close to the stage, it completely overtakes you.
Rob: Yes, it’s really thrilling.
Stay tuned for Part Two!